Can I Help My Ten-Year-Old Make Friends?

By expanding a child's social universe, parents can increase her chances of meeting new kids and making friendships.
My 10-year-old daughter is having ongoing problems making friends. She only has one playmate who appears to be a "fair weather friend." My daughter has no close ties with anyone else in the class -- she's never been really close to any of the girls at school or in our neighborhood. I encourage her to make other friends, but I'm unsuccessful. I'm not sure whether or not she's afraid to try.

Lately, the problem seems to be bothering my daughter more and more. In most ways she is quite mature for her age -- it just seems that making friends is difficult for her. She's not painfully shy--she willingly talks to people. How can I help her?

Your daughter has reached a social and emotional stage of development where friendships and peer relations mean much more to her. Social cliques begin in earnest at your daughter's age; she may be feeling more pressure to "fit in" somewhere, in addition to a need to have close friends. I wouldn't continue to point out her only friend's bad points, as your daughter appears to be well aware that this classmate is not a true friend. Unfortunately, this girl is the only child that your daughter socializes with on an individual basis.

Your daughter may not be "painfully shy" but she might be less socially mature than other kids her age. Perhaps she could ask a classmate who she thinks is nice to play after school at your house. If that's a bit too intimate for her, how about your taking her and a classmate of her choosing to a movie, bowling, or out to lunch? She needs to break the ice and you could rehearse with her how to approach a classmate and ask her to play with her.

I'd also return again to seeking out social situations for her outside of her school. Does she have any interest in drama, 4-H, or scouting? Brainstorm with her and come up with kids' organizations that she might be interested in. She might make friendships while volunteering with other kids at a local food bank or charitable organization. You need to help her expand her social universe. In so doing, you'll increase her chances to meet new kids and make friendships. Give these suggestions a try and write me back on her progress.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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